Saturday, 26 November 2011

Generic v Idiosyncratic

I can’t remember when the term generic became … well… generic. Webster’s reckons the first recorded use of the term was 1676 but it has lately become a synonym for common. Thus it is now possible to describe something as “a bit generic”. I decided my posts on this blog were becoming “a bit generic” and it was time for a little idiosyncracy…

I started pondering the term when I recently ended up buying a generic car. My old car ( a Citroen Berlingo) was a little idiosyncratic - which ultimately proved to be A Bad Thing. The new (to me) car (a silver Ford Focus estate) is a continuous source of unsurprises.

focus customised
Soon after its purchase we took some friends to the pub. I dropped them and parked the car round the corner. When I collected it and returned at the end of the evening one of our friends was recovering from a faux-pas, having just mistakenly climbed into the back of a stranger’s car - to be told that it wasn’t a bloody taxi. Then, in a car park, standing by my boot pondering, I was mildly intimidated to see a cross-looking woman approaching wielding car keys, only for her to veer off when she realised her silver lookalike vehicle was next-door to mine.  I have also resorted on two occasions
to using the flashing unlock lights to spot my car in multi-storey car parks.  And my daughter has had the audacity to complain that she would not approach my car when I pick her up at the station until she’s sure it’s me. I suspect I’ll get used to this. I'll admit at first I sneered rather at a previous owner who’d thought it a good idea to put alloy wheels on an estate car. I feel a little more sympathetic now.

In general I’m fond of the idiosyncratic; favouring hand-made over factory-made, folk music over X-Factor.  We’ve been making digital stories at school and I’ve been actively encouraging students to find their own distinct voice through writing and recording personal stories illustrated by archive photographs of themselves.  One of the sharpest, most amusing bits of YouTube I know is Charlie Brooker’s horribly accurate parody of the generic news item that I’ve embedded below. And yet… and yet…
Lots of media educators favour Apple OS over Windows. But for me, the huge advantage Movie Maker had over iMovie, was that many more kids were likely to have it at home. And there are simply heaps of additional stuff available on the FX archive. It was, of course, the very fact that Movie Maker was generic to Windows that encouraged those nice geeks to provide all those extras in the first place.  I’ve moaned before about the inferior qualities of Live Movie Maker - not because of the useability of the interface but mainly because it prevents users from editing images to sound – something that’s rather important in my book. But then, perhaps I’m an idiosyncratic user of Movie Maker. I suppose that’s the point really. We want our tools to be generic but the artefacts we produce with them to be idiosyncratic. The only solution seems to be that, when, like my car, our tools are artefacts too, we customise our tools.
Now where’s that spray can…